From Class to Minor to Major, How Majors Come to Be

During an 8:00 a.m. class, students usually wonder why they decided to sign up for it. But how did that class come to be in the first place?

The process of turning an idea into a class is one that is almost entirely controlled by the faculty.

“Students often don’t know how curricular change happens, and I think it’s important to know,” chair of the English department Ashley Cross, Ph.D., said.

As the environmental studies minor prepares to transition into a full major program, the steps in this process have become increasingly important to the professors and director involved in the program.

When faculty members get an idea that either came to them organically or was suggested to them by a group of students, that professor creates a potential syllabus and then brings this proposal up to their department for approval by the chair.

If this course is approved within the department, it then needs the “okay” from the dean of the school and the curriculum committee. If it gains the approval of both the dean and the committee, the class can then be taught during the semester that the professor is available to teach it.

“You want to make sure you don’t have courses listed that you can’t offer,” Cross said.

But not every professor can always teach their specialty each semester.

“It’s hard at a small school because all faculty get to teach within their specialty, but they also have to teach some of the core classes because all of these things have to get covered,” Cross said.

This usually means that professors decide to make it so that students “ideally have at least two chances to take a specific class within the four years,” Cross said.

Creating a minor takes more coordination because several faculty have to agree to work on it together.

This suggestion is incredibly difficult to turn into a reality if the need for new faculty members becomes apparent, something senior Alyssa O’Braskin said she “never really thought about. It’s incredible how much work goes into deciding whether or not a class should be a class or a minor or a major. I’m really interested to know more about how this process works and I would love to see students get more involved.”

The environmental studies minor, which recently was approved as a major program, began when professors who felt passionately about the subject of environmental studies decided to create the minor together.

“About a dozen or so years ago, Dr. Chasek thought an environmental studies cluster would be a good idea, and then about half a dozen years ago, it was approved as a minor,” Jeffrey Myers, Ph.D. and professor of English, said.

In order for classes to turn into a minor, not only does the proposed minor need to be approved by the department, the dean, and the curriculum committee of the school the classes are contained in, but it also needs to be approved by the college itself. The Provost, Vice President for Finance and the State Education Department also play a role in approving the major.

Myers, the environmental studies program director, has played an integral role in the minor’s journey to becoming a major.

From start to finish, the process of environmental studies becoming a major “took about a year,” Myers said.

“We started working on it in the fall of 2013 and then by the fall of 2014 it was in the process of getting approved by the state,” which this minor received late in 2014.

This major will stretch across the Schools of Engineering, Science, and Arts. Students in the School of Arts will be able to major in environmental studies, but for students in the other two schools, they can only either make environmental studies their second major.

The major will allow students to take courses in a variety of topics: biology, English, chemical engineering, government, history and religion are just a few.

“Environmental issues are going to be some of the most important issues in the coming years, and to be able to prepare students for leadership positions in this field is extremely important,” Myers said.

“If we could build it up to between 15 to 20 students, that would be our goal. We’ve already had success in getting our minors jobs at non-profit organizations or into graduate programs in the environmental studies field, so we have a pretty good post-graduate trajectory at this point,” Myers said.

“So many students while minoring have said to me, I really wish I could be a major,” Myers said.